Ask About Antiques/Roseville Pottery I The Early Years [1890 - 1915]
by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.
I discovered Roseville pottery in the mid-1970s when a friend of mine gave me a golden brown 8" Gardenia Vase for Christmas that year. I began to notice pieces at auctions and flea markets. No one seemed too interested in the pottery and it sold very inexpensively (by today’s standards), so along with pattern glass, I decided to collect some pieces of this beautiful ware. In about five years I had accumulated a sizable collection. The pieces sat in my home ever since and have multiplied to the 415 pieces I have today.
During the intervening years I read and studied everything I could get my hands on about this collectable. Despite the fact that the pottery has been closed for 48 years, there is a wealth of information and a wide variety of pieces still to be had on the market (although at substantially higher prices). I found that the history of Roseville pottery was as much corporate as it was artistic. I think this is one of the contradictions about this small slice of American industry and art that Roseville always had to grapple with. The company would rather produce fine, one-of-a-kind art pottery, but also had to keep a sharp eye on the company’s bottom line. Thus the company moved from artist decorated wares early in this century to decorator-adorned pieces for sale.
No Wall Street analyst or business expert looking at Roseville Pottery when it went into business in 1890 would have predicted a “rosy” outlook for the enterprise. But despite all of the obstacles and hindrances, Roseville did succeed. The pottery was founded in Roseville, Ohio in 1890 by a very active and enterprising man named George F. Young. He built the business of making crocks, bowls, and utilitarian wares in a two-plant operation that far outstripped the ability of Zanesville to sustain it. In 1898 he moved the pottery to the former plant operated by the Clark Stoneware Company on Linden Avenue in Zanesville, Ohio, the hub of pottery-making in Ohio. His stubborn competitive ambitions carried the pottery into the new century. Zanesville was also the home of two other large pottery plants, the S.A. Weller Company and the J.B. Owens Company, both of which had an established market of long standing. Having these two competitors was actually good for Roseville, because it forced the company to innovate. Weller was producing fine pieces in its sensational premier line called Louwelsa. When he saw this beautiful ware, George Young was stung by the art pottery bug forever.
Young hired an artist named Ross Purdy to “help Roseville catch up.” Purdy did just that. In 1900 the company introduced a quality line of art pottery known as Rozane [combining the name Roseville and Zanesville]. The competition was not impressed. Young decided that to improve the quality and attractiveness of his products, he had to assemble a group of the best artists he could find. He found such men as John Herold, Gazo Fudji, Christian Neilson, and Frederick Rhead. From these artistic geniuses came the early lines of high quality wares that made the name of Roseville Pottery a world-renowned name, Rozane Woodland, Fudji, Rozane Egypto, Della Robbia, and Aztec. Along with the rising sales of the original Rozane ware, these lines breathed the breath of corporate success into Roseville Pottery that made the pottery a household name. This, along with a continued production of utilitarian ware, made Roseville Pottery a very profitable enterprise in the years from 1890-1910, so much so that the company divided in 1901 with the acquisition of another pottery plant located on Muskingum Avenue. The company was successful and was turning a nice profit running the art pottery production at the Linden Avenue plant and the other wares at Muskingum. The company reached 1915 confident that the years only held bright promises for continued growth and prosperity.
Next: Roseville II - The 20’s To The 50’s - The Company Flowers
Auction Action: [Recently sold at Matt Hurley’s Legacy Auction Center, 2800 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa. 17225]
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Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. If you have a question about antiques or collectibles, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. An answer to your question may appear in a subsequent column.